Under Oklahoma law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other places that are open to the public. The ADA covers people with all types of disabilities, including those who use psychiatric service animals. Oklahoma’s service animal law is more limited, in that it covers only those who are blind, deaf or hard of hearing, or have another physical disability. However, businesses and other public accommodations in Oklahoma must comply with both state and federal law. Read on to learn which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.
Oklahoma gives people with certain disabilities the right to bring their service dogs into all public accommodations, including all streets, highways, sidewalks, and walkways; all public buildings; all common carriers and modes of transportation (including airplanes, cars, buses, trains, boats, and so on); all motels, hotels, and other lodging places; all college dormitories and other educational facilities; all restaurants and other places where food is sold; and all places of public resort, convenience, amusement, or accommodation to which the general public is invited.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is also very comprehensive and includes all public places. However, religious entities, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, are not considered public accommodations under the ADA. This is so even if the religious entity offers secular services, such as a day-care center that admits children whether or not they are members of or affiliated with the religious institution. Private clubs (member-controlled nonprofit groups that are highly selective, charge substantial membership fees, and were not created in order to avoid compliance with civil rights laws) are also not covered by the ADA. However, if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it is subject to the ADA’s public accommodation rules as to those facilities.
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability. In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:
Oklahoma law applies only to guide, signal, or service dogs who assist those who are blind, deaf or hard of hearing, or otherwise physically disabled. A service dog must be individually trained to a physically disabled person’s requirements. The law doesn’t apply to other types of animals, nor to dogs who assist those with other types of disabilities, such as psychiatric or other mental disabilities. Oklahoma businesses still must comply with the ADA, which applies more broadly as noted above.
Neither the ADA nor Oklahoma’s equal rights law covers what some people call “emotional support animals”: animals whose presence provides a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Pets are also not covered.
Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, or other proof of your animal’s training or status. If it is not apparent what your service animal does, the establishment may ask you only whether it is a service animal, and what tasks it performs for you. Oklahoma law states that signal dogs (those that assist deaf or hard of hearing people) must wear an identifying orange collar.
The ADA and Oklahoma law prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.
The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out). Your animal may also be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it.
Oklahoma’s landlord-tenant laws prohibit landlords from ending a rental arrangement or refusing to enter into one with a tenant who is blind, deaf, or otherwise physically disabled because the tenant uses a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog. (There is an exception for tenancies entered into before November 1, 1985.)
Likewise, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and may not be charged extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a “no pets” provision, it does not apply to your service animal.
Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidance on service animals.)